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Stalin's General: The Life of Georgy Zhukov

Stalin's General
This is a great biography of one of the great generals of the Second World War, by the British historian Geoffrey Roberts. Buy it at Amazon.com. My notes are below, with "location" numbers for the Kindle edition. -- Daniel Ford

From a force five million strong the Red Army declined to about half a million [in the 1920s] (loc 724)

The Bolshevik Party ... changed its name to Communist in 1918 (loc 744)

The Red Army ... official title was the Workers' and Peasants' Red Army (loc 754)

regular army of about 500,000 plus a number of territorial divisions of mainly part-time soldiers required to serve for a couple of months each year. The regular armed forces were concentrated in border districts, while the territorial divisions were generally located in the safer interior of the country. But even the so-called regular troops were mostly two-year conscripts. (loc 779

By the early 1930s the Red Army had formulated and adopted the dual doctrine of "deep battle" and "deep operations." Under this doctrine, successive waves of combined arms forces would penetrate the full depth of enemy defenses and then exploit the breakthrough by envelopment of enemy forces from the rear. Warfare would consist of a consecutive series of such operations, utilizing what the Soviets called "operational art"-the sophisticated management of "combined arms"-the different branches of the armed forces-in pursuit of deep battle and deep operations. The idea was similar to the German concept of Blitzkrieg being developed around the same time, i.e., breakthrough on a narrow front by concentrated columns of tanks, which would then encircle the enemy from the rear. However, the Soviets were less tank-centric than the Germans and emphasized the importance of combined arms operations in which tanks would play a supporting as well as an independent role. They were also more mindful than the Germans of the importance of coordinating and synchronizing tank action with that of artillery, infantry, cavalry, and air forces. (loc 896)

In accordance with its new doctrine the Red Army established the world's first mechanized corps in 1932-two formations, each consisting of several hundred tanks and armored cars, supported by infantry, artillery, and air detachments-that would act as the central strike force of the army in the event of war. By 1936 there were four mechanized corps as well as six separate mechanized brigades, and six separate tank regiments. (loc 901)

The key figure in the doctrinal and practical development of the interwar Red Army was Mikhail N. Tukhachevsky (loc 908)

the Temporary Field Service Regulations of 1936 ... set out the principles of the Red Army's approach to battle and operations as an offensive-oriented army that would deploy combined arms (loc 917)

attack the enemy in depth: Modern means of neutralization, primarily tanks, artillery, aviation and tank-borne infantry raids, employed on a large scale, make it possible to organise the simultaneous attack on the enemy throughout the entire depth of his positions, with the aim of isolating, completely encircling and destroying him. (loc 919)

Two main lessons seemed to emerge from the Spanish conflict: tanks were vulnerable to artillery and antitank weapons, and tank units would incur large losses in open battle; and, second, that it was difficult for tanks to achieve decisive results without close infantry support. This led to an increased emphasis in Soviet doctrine on the importance of combined arms operations (as opposed to independent tank manuevers) and on the tank's role in infantry support. The Spanish experience also contributed to the decision in November 1939 to disband the mechanized corps and to instead group tanks in smaller formations distributed throughout the armed forces. (loc 930)

In the early 1930s the Red Army grew to nearly a million strong and by the end of the decade had a complement of over four million. (loc 1018)

1939 the USSR was producing more than 10,000 planes a year, nearly 3,000 tanks, more than 17,000 artillery pieces and 114,000 machine guns. (loc 1021)

The origins of this massive rearmament program dated back to a war scare in 1927 when the Soviets believed the British and the Poles were plotting a combined attack. The Soviets examined their defenses and found them to be highly vulnerable. That review coincided with the launch of the first five-year plan for the industrialization of the USSR, which promised to provide the Red Army with the technical resources to build up its war machine. In 1931 Japan's invasion of the northeastern Chinese province of Manchuria provoked further anxieties about the state of Soviet defenses. The Soviets had many interests in China, not least border security, and feared the Japanese attack could develop into a wider regional conflict into which they would be drawn. Also, in January 1933 Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany. (loc 1027)

By the time the purge had run its course more than 34,000 officers had been dismissed from the armed forces. Among the victims was Rokossovsky, who was arrested and imprisoned in August 1937. While some 11,500 officers were eventually reinstated (among them Rokossovsky), the great majority were either executed or died in prison. Among those who perished were three marshals (Tukhachevsky, Yegorov, and Blukher); sixteen officers of general-level rank; fifteen admirals; 264 colonels; 107 majors; and seventy-one lieutenants. (loc 1049)

Flying Tigers

anti-Comintern pact ... November 1936. Ostensibly directed against the activities of the Communist International-established by the Bolsheviks in 1919 to foment world revolution-the pact was in fact directed against the Soviet Union and contained a secret agreement that Japan and Germany would maintain a benevolent neutrality should either become involved in war with the USSR. The pact reinforced Stalin's belief that Japanese spies and saboteurs had penetrated Siberia. He responded with mass arrests of indigenous Koreans and Japanese living in the region. (loc 1157)

Defense Commissariat newspaper, Krasnaya Zvezda (Red Star) (loc 1275)

The Poles put up little resistance to the Soviet invasion but it was by far the Red Army's biggest operation since the civil war. (loc 1389)

Finland in the winter of 1939-1940. During that conflict the Red Army suffered 200,000 casualties, including nearly 50,000 dead. (loc 1392)

The Soviets even entertained delusions that the Finnish working class would rise in revolt and welcome the Red Army as socialist liberators. (loc 1403)

expelled from the League of Nations for aggression-a fate Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, and fascist Italy all had avoided by leaving the organization of their own accord. (loc 1406)

1.2 million troops, supported by 1,500 tanks and 3,000 aircraft. (loc 1410)

a commission was established to further distill the lessons of the Finnish war. The work of this commission contributed to a series of reforms of the Soviet armed forces. In May the government restored the titles of general and admiral (loc 1426)

Stalin reinstated thousands of purged and disgraced officers. (loc 1428)

July 1940 a decree established nine mechanized corps, consisting of more than 1,000 tanks each, supported by motorized infantry, signal, and engineering units. (loc 1435)

decisions were made to produce the models of many of the tanks, guns, and planes that were to become the mainstay of the Soviet armed forces during the Great Patriotic War, including the famous T-34 tank. (loc 1436)

Another person who made Zhukov's acquaintance in Kiev was Nikita Khrushchev, then party secretary in Ukraine. (loc 1514)

The Soviet decision to plump for a southern concentration was fateful. When the Germans attacked in June 1941 the bulk of Soviet forces and armor were located in the southwest. (loc 1571)

Three aspects of these war games and their outcome are revealing. First was the assumption that the Germans would initiate hostilities and the Soviets would counterattack after a period of frontier battles lasting about two weeks. Second, both games confirmed the advantages conferred by a strategic counterinvasion in the southwestern sector-thus reinforcing the decision of the October war plan to concentrate Soviet forces in that area of operations. Third were the projected troop losses the Red Army could be expected to incur when war broke out, estimated at 120,000 a month-a figure that proved to be a gross underestimate. (loc 1676)

It must have been Zhukov's performance during the games, as well as at the conference, that persuaded Stalin to appoint him chief of the General Staff (CGS) in place of Meretskov, notwithstanding his lack of General Staff experience. Other factors working in his favor were Timoshenko's patronage and Zhukov's detailed knowledge of both the Belorussian and the Kiev Military Districts. Important, too, was Zhukov's strong commitment to the doctrine of offensive action expressed in the Soviet war plans. The Soviets intended to fight an offensive war against Germany and Zhukov was seen by Stalin as the man to orchestrate the Red Army's attacks. (loc 1684)

THE SUMMER OF 1941 THE RED ARMY ENDURED A SERIES OF DEFEATS greater than that experienced by any other army in history. (loc 1701)

[Z's] Yel'nya offensive of August-September 1941 was an early turning point in the Soviet-German war. The Red Army's first major victory over the Wehrmacht, it delayed the German advance on Moscow for a vital several weeks. (loc 1711)

Stalin supported Hitler's call for peace after the German conquest of Poland, while the fhrer lent political support to the Soviets during the Winter War with Finland. German U-boats were allowed to establish a base on Soviet territory north of Murmansk. (loc 1730)

Relations between Stalin and Hitler began to sour in summer 1940 when Germany conquered France. Stalin had assumed the Second World War would be a rerun of the First World War, with the Germans and the British and French bogged down in a protracted struggle in Western Europe. Now Stalin found himself faced with a partner who dominated continental Europe and threatened to overwhelm Britain, too. (loc 1733)

In response to the magnified German threat in July 1940 the Soviets occupied the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania and expanded into Romania (loc 1736) This move was rebuffed by Hitler, who extended his protection to Romania and called a halt to further Soviet territorial encroachments. (loc 1739)

Hitler, however, considered Soviet actions aggressive and they prompted him to revive his plans to seek Lebensraum in the east-German expansion into, and the colonization of, Russia. (loc 1741)

Reports of a coming German attack had been trickling into Moscow since mid-1940 from a variety of sources-military, political, and diplomatic. In early 1941, when the Germans began active preparations for invasion, the trickle of information became a stream and then a deluge. (loc 1746)

the Soviets had begun with an exaggerated view of the overall strength of the German army, which they estimated to have reached 300 divisions by spring 1941, when the actual figure was nearer 200. From that perspective the 120 divisions the Soviets estimated to be ranged against them was neither disproportionate nor at the level to be expected on the eve of an invasion. (loc 1777)

The Only War We've Got

MP-41-Mobilizatsionnyi Plan 1941. Dating from mid-February 1941, this was a plan to expand the number of troops in the Red Army from just over four million to more than eight million. Included among the 300 planned divisions would be 60 tank and 30 motorized divisions, which would be organized into 30 three-division mechanized corps. The bulk of this force (6.5 million troops) would be located in the USSR's western military districts. The mobilization plan involved the call-up of nearly five million reservists, including 600,000 officers and 885,000 NCOs. It is not clear when the Soviets expected to complete the mobilization, but certainly not before the end of 1941. (loc 1783)

total military personnel fell a million short of the target. A little under three million troops were deployed in the western districts, the bulk in the southwest where 97 divisions, including 27 tank divisions, were located. (loc 1786)

The March plan estimated the Germans had 260 divisions, about 110 deployed against the Soviet Union. However, the assumption was that after the end of the war with Great Britain the Germans would be able to deploy 200 divisions against the USSR supported by 70 divisions from Romania, Hungary, and Finland. To meet an attack by this force the Soviets planned to deploy at least 250 divisions in their western districts. Crucially, the March plan, like the October plan, assumed that the main German attack would come in the south, although an attack in the north from East Prussia was not ruled out. The planned Soviet response was to be a massive counteroffensive from the Ukraine into southern Poland. It would seem that in mid-May 1941 yet another version of the Soviet war plan was prepared.... [In] essence the May plan was the same as the October 1940 and March 1941 plans: absorb the German attack and then counterattack in the main theater of operations with the aim of destroying the bulk of enemy forces and fighting the war on foreign soil. But there was a new element in the May plan that has been the subject of much discussion-a proposal for a preemptive strike (loc 1801)

On June 15 the latest GRU summary report confirmed there had been a massive transfer of German forces eastward and that the Wehrmacht now had 120-122 divisions deployed along the Soviet border, a good number of them concentrated in the southwest. (loc 1893)

the most important reason for Stalin's refusal to heed warnings of an imminent German attack was that he did not believe it mattered much if he miscalculated and Hitler caught him by surprise. Neither Stalin nor the General Staff believed the Germans would attack with massive military force from day one of the war. (loc 1908)

Like Stalin, Zhukov and the Soviet General Staff fully expected their frontier defenses to hold during this initial period of the war, thus buying time to complete the mobilization of the rest of the Red Army for the planned counteroffensive. (loc 1912)

Leading the assault across a 1,000-mile front were 152 German divisions, supported by 14 Finnish divisions in the north and 14 Romanian divisions in the south. Later, the 3.5-million-strong invasion force would be joined by armies from Hungary and Italy, by the Spanish Blue Division, by contingents from Croatia and Slovakia, and by volunteer units recruited from every country in Nazi-occupied Europe. (loc 1925)

the Germans planned a Vernichtungskrieg in Russia-a war of destruction, of extermination. Not only the Red Army but also the entire Soviet communist regime was to be destroyed. According to the Nazis' anti-Semitic ideology the Soviet Union was a Judeo-Bolshevik state-a communist regime under Jewish control and influence. Nazi racist ideology also defined the Slavic peoples of Russia as an inferior race of Untermenschen or subhumans. Unlike the Jews the Slavs were not slated by the Nazis for extermination or expulsion, but they were destined for servitude and slavery. (loc 1942)

the Southwestern Front's attempted counteroffensive floundered, although the counterattack did delay the German advance into Ukraine for a short time. This was not surprising given that the German attack on Ukraine was relatively light and the Southwestern Front was the strongest on the USSR's western borders (loc 1985)

the third directive, which required [Z] to send his second-echelon forces deep into the Bialystok salient that jutted into central Poland. This exposed his forces to a massive German double-encirclement maneuver that closed its pincers just east of Minsk-an operation that trapped thirty Red Army divisions and resulted in the capture of 400,000 prisoners. (loc 1992)

September 17 Stavka finally authorized a withdrawal from Kiev to the eastern bank of the Dnepr. But it was too little too late; the pincers of the German encirclement east of Kiev had already closed. Four Soviet armies, forty-three divisions in all, were encircled. (loc 2113)

The Southwestern Front suffered some 750,000 casualties including more than 600,000 killed, captured, or missing during the battle of Kiev. (loc 2116)

The Red Army did not fight a defensive battle at Smolensk; its strategy was offensive and took the form of numerous counterstrokes, counterattacks, and counteroffensives like the one at Yel'nya. The Germans were held up at Smolensk for two months but the cost was very high. The Red Army's total losses approached half a million troops dead or missing with another quarter of a million wounded. (loc 2129)

the Red Army neglected training for defense, especially at the operational-strategic level, and was unprepared for the defensive war it was forced to fight in 1941-1942-a "serious mistake," says Zhukov, that led to high casualties. (loc 2204)

"It is crystal clear," wrote Zhukov, "that our forces could not have contained the powerful blows inflicted by the enemy during the first days of the war, that we did not have the capacity to oppose such powerful enemy blows, that the strategic initiative was in the hands of the enemy during the early days of the war." (loc 2212)

The Greater America

Kiev fell in mid-September and the Germans marched on toward the Crimea and Rostov-on-Don-gateway to the Caucasus and the Soviet oilfields at Baku. (loc 2405)

During the [Leningrad] siege 640,000 civilians died of starvation while another 400,000 perished or disappeared during the course of forced evacuations, many into the icy waters of Lake Ladoga during the winter of 1941-1942. More than a million Soviet soldiers lost their lives fighting in the Leningrad region. (loc 2416)

The Viazma and Briansk encirclements of early October had been even more disastrous than those at Minsk and Kiev in the summer. The Briansk, Western, and Reserve Fronts lost a total of sixty-four rifle divisions, eleven tank brigades, and fifty artillery regiments, leaving Zhukov with only 900,000 troops to defend the Soviet capital. (loc 2472)

by the end of October the German offensive was running out of steam. In addition, the Germans became increasingly bogged down in the autumn mud of that part of the world-what the Russians called the Rasputitsa (the season of bad roads). (loc 2503)

By March 1942 German forces had suffered 1.1 million dead, wounded, missing, or captured-some 35 percent of their strength on the Eastern Front. (loc 2733)

[plus] 40,000 trucks, 40,000 motorbikes, and nearly 30,000 cars, not to mention thousands of tanks. (loc 2734)

horses and other draft animals for transport, and their losses numbered 180,000 with only 20,000 replaced. (loc 2736)

Sebastopol fell in early July (loc 2763)

During July and August the Germans took 625,000 prisoners and captured or destroyed 7,000 tanks, 6,000 artillery pieces, and more than 400 aircraft. (loc 2778)

July 28, 1942, Stalin issued his renowned Order No. 227-Ni Shagu Nazad! (Not a Step Back!). (loc 2818)

officers were issued new uniforms, complete with epaulettes and gold braid (especially imported from Britain). (loc 2847)

Seven Soviet armies commanded by Rokossovsky attacked on January 10, 1943. By the end of the month the unequal battle was won and only 90,000 Germans remained alive to surrender. Among them was Paulus, one of twenty-four German generals at Stalingrad who went into Soviet captivity. (loc 3011)

Stalin had just returned from the Tehran summit with Churchill and Roosevelt at which they had promised Stalin that western Allied forces would, at long last, invade northern France in summer 1944. It was also agreed to coordinate the strategic operations of the USSR and its Western allies and Stalin pledged to support the Allied invasion of France by launching a major offensive on the Soviet-German (loc 3351)

By the end of 1943 half of all Soviet territory occupied by the Germans had been liberated. Since Stalingrad the Germans had lost 56 divisions and suffered devastating damage to 162 others. While the Wehrmacht no longer had the capacity to wage large-scale offensive warfare, it could sustain an active defense: Germany and its allies still had an army five million strong with 54,500 guns and mortars, 5,400 tanks and assault guns, and more than 3,000 planes. Despite cumulative losses that far exceeded those of the German, the Soviet armed forces had 30 percent more manpower, 70 percent more artillery, and 230 percent more aircraft. (It also had the advantage of greatly increased supplies from the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, and other allies.) (loc 3360)

Operation Bagration, June 1944.) Between them the four main Fronts had 2.4 million troops, 5,200 tanks, 36,000 artillery pieces, and 5,300 military aircraft, giving the Soviets a two-to-one superiority over the Germans in personnel, six times as many tanks, and four times as many planes and artillery. (loc 3418)

The Soviets were informed of the approximate date of D-Day in early April and on April 18 Stalin cabled Roosevelt and Churchill that "as agreed in Tehran, the Red Army will launch a new offensive at the same time so as to give maximum support to the Anglo-American operation." (loc 3422)

On June 19-20 the partisans launched attacks on German communications, staff headquarters, and airfields. The partisans also acted as forward observers for massive bombing attacks on the Germans on June 21-22. The main ground attack began on June 23 and was a stunning success. (loc 3457)

Lvov fell to the Red Army on July 27. (loc 3470)

A Vision So Noble

Between June 22 and July 4, Army Group Center lost twenty-five divisions and well over 300,000 troops; another 100,000 troops were lost in the weeks that followed. By the end of July it had ceased to exist as an effective fighting force. The destruction of Army Group Center did not come cheap. The four main Fronts involved in Operation Bagration suffered 750,000 casualties during the course of the campaign to liberate Belorussia. (loc 3475)

On July 27, 1st Belorussian was ordered to attack the Warsaw suburb of Praga, on the eastern side of the Vistula, and to establish bridgeheads on the river's western banks to the north and south of the Polish capital. These tasks were to be accomplished by August 5-8. Pride of place in the coming capture of Warsaw was allocated to the Soviet-organized 1st Polish Army. Recruited from among Polish citizens deported to the USSR following the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland in September 1939, the 1st Polish had begun forming up in July 1943. Its leadership was pro-communist and many of its officers Russian. By July 1944 it was about 20,000 strong and formed part of Rokossovsky's 1st Belorussian Front. Rokossovsky was himself part Polish, (loc 3492)

the Germans quickly rebuilt Army Group Center by transferring divisions from other sectors of the Eastern Front and from Western Europe. (loc 3500)

early October the Soviet attack on Warsaw had petered out and its bridgeheads west of the Vistula were precarious at best. On November 12 the right wing of the 1st Belorussian Front was ordered to go over to the defensive and the Red Army did not resume offensive operations in the Warsaw area until January 1945. (loc 3515)

The course of military events shows that the Soviets did indeed want to capture Warsaw and expected to do so quickly. When their first efforts failed, they tried again. (loc 3518)

By the time the uprising failed in early October the AK had incurred about 20,000 fatalities and many thousands more wounded, while the civilian population, caught in the crossfire, suffered somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 dead. (loc 3555)

During the assault on Berlin the Red Army suffered 300,000 casualties, including nearly 80,000 dead. (loc 3598)

Tsar Alexander I had been when the Russian army occupied Paris in 1814. Indeed, when the American ambassador, Averell Harriman, later congratulated Stalin on the capture of Berlin, the dictator told him "Alexander got to Paris." (loc 3631)

The pro-communist 1st Polish Army was tasked to enter Warsaw first and it did so on January 17, 1945. (loc 3647)

Speed was the characteristic feature of the Vistula-Oder operation. During the first twenty days of the operation Soviet troops advanced at the rate of fifteen to twenty miles a day, with some tank units going twice as fast. (loc 3657)

Between 1940 and 1945 the British RAF dropped more than 60,000 tons of bombs on Berlin, killing 200,000 people and destroying up to 75 percent of buildings in the center of the city. A great number of the city's inhabitants were homeless. (loc 3791)

A million German troops supported by 1,500 tanks and assault guns and nearly 10,000 mortars and artillery pieces defended the city and its approaches. (loc 3800)

Soviet casualties during the Berlin operation exceeded 350,000 while the Germans lost half a million with another half a million taken prisoner by the Soviets. Among the casualties were the 125,000 German civilians who died, including 4,000 who committed suicide in April 1945 alone. (loc 3870)

Zhukov's first big chance to shine in the post-Stalin era came with his role in the arrest of security chief Lavrenty Beria. [June 26, 1953] ... Beria was found guilty of terrorism and counterrevolutionary activities, sentenced to death, and shot. Sometime later, when he was asked what was the most important thing he had done in his life, Zhukov replied: "the arrest of Beria." (loc 4307)

One of Khrushchev's more unsavory career episodes was his role in the infamous Katyn Massacre of March-April 1940.... It was Khrushchev, together with Stalin's later disgraced security chief, Lavrenty Beria, who had proposed the further security measure of deporting the POWs' families to Kazakhstan for ten years-an operation completed by mid-April 1940. (loc 4365) [ G. Roberts, "Stalin and the Katyn Massacre," in G. Roberts (ed.), Stalin: His Times and Ours (Dublin: IAREES, 2005)]

In May 1955 the Soviet-western occupation of Austria was ended by the Austrian State Treaty. (loc 4624)

Kaganovich became manager of a potash factory in the Urals. (loc 4745)

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